This recently received question relates to an interesting point on nearest point of relief, which I don’t think that I have blogged about previously.
“On our course we have a gravel filled drain running alongside the left hand side of the 16th fairway. It is very narrow, only 8 inches wide. Is it permissible to determine the nearest point of relief by taking your stance on one side of the ditch with the ball on the other side (i.e. the drain is between the player and his ball)?”
The answer to this question is, ‘Yes’ if the point on the other side of the drain is the nearest point of relief. In fact, the player must use this point to determine the permitted area where they may drop their ball, which is within one club-length of that point not nearer the hole. The reason for this being the nearest point is that there is no mental relief from an immovable obstruction in the Rules of Golf; so just because the narrow gravel strip lies between the toes of the player’s normal stance and where their ball would be positioned if they were using the club with which they would normally use for a reasonable stroke from that place, does not mean that they may drop on the near side of the immovable obstruction. In the diagram above, which is not quite the same as in the question, the nearest point of relief for the ball in the gravel drain for a right-handed player is at point Y (for yes) and not at either of the two points marked X (for wrong). Note that the player’s stance for the wrong point X on the left side of the drain would be further away than in the diagram, which represents the player’s stance for the correct nearest point of relief. Of course, once the nearest point of relief has been determined the player may then drop their ball anywhere within one-club-length of that point, not nearer the hole, using the longest club they carry, which may be back on the near side of the gravel path. Please remember that there is only one nearest point of relief, except in the comparatively rare occurrence when ball lies in a position where there could be two equidistant points, and in most situations that point will be at a different place for left and right-handed players. Also remember that the nearest point of relief does not necessarily mean that the player will be able to drop in a more favourable position; sometimes it is better to play a stroke, even though there is interference, rather than taking relief in a less favourable position by taking the correct relief under the Rules.
(Edit 8th une 2016: There was an error in this paragraph which I have now corrected.)
Now here is a point that many (most?) golfers would not realise; in some cases the nearest point of relief may be through an immovable obstruction, unless there is a Local Rule that states otherwise. Note 3 to Rule 24-2 states;
The Committee may make a Local Rule stating that the player must determine the nearest point of relief without crossing over, through or under the obstruction.Personally, I do not know of any course where this Local Rule has been introduced, but if your ball is on the ‘wrong side’ of a wall, fence, or something similar, you should definitely check the Local Rules before determining your nearest point of relief.
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